DURHAM, N.C. (AP) - There’s chaos brewing once again in the ACC’s Coastal Division.
But this time, nobody’s making fun of it.
The division mocked recently for its parity has a logjam of teams at the top for a change, with No. 22 Duke, No. 23 Pittsburgh and North Carolina all unbeaten in league play.
“You have a handful of teams,” Duke safety Jeremy Cash said Tuesday, “that are competing on a very high level.”
And in a quirk of the schedule, the picture could get much clearer over the next couple of weeks.
The three teams with a combined record of 18-3 play a round robin among themselves: North Carolina (6-1, 3-0) visits Pitt (6-1, 4-0) on Thursday night, then hosts Duke (6-1, 3-0) next week. Pitt then travels to Duke on Nov. 14.
Then again, if they each go 1-1 against each other, things could get complicated again.
There are still too many permutations to try to figure out, North Carolina running back Elijah Hood said.
“If I could (pay attention), I probably would, but I don’t have time to think about that right now,” he said. “I’ve got to have tunnel vision because it’s a big game, and none of it matters if you lose the game coming up.”
That hasn’t always been the case in the Coastal, where every winner since Virginia Tech in 2011 has had multiple ACC losses. Since the split into divisions in 2005, the 2010 Hokies were the only Coastal team to go unbeaten in league play.
“It’s definitely gotten more competitive,” Duke center Matt Skura said. “Especially this year, I think a lot of the teams are feeling the pressure than in years past to keep winning every single week. I think sometimes before, teams could know that they could get away with one or two losses and still make it to Charlotte.”
Here’s a quick look at how they got here:
- Pitt’s only loss was a 27-24 setback at No. 10 Iowa that came on a last-second field goal. The Panthers have won four straight games, all decided by a touchdown or less, with kicker Chris Blewitt drilling late game-winners on the road in each of the past two weeks.
- North Carolina has reeled off six straight wins since its season opening loss to South Carolina. The Tar Heels have the ACC’s best offense.
- Duke has won four in a row since a home loss to Northwestern and the Blue Devils own one of the league’s best defenses.
But there are still questions about the strength of the ACC.
Asked what he would say to people wondering if Pitt is for real, first-year coach Pat Narduzzi said: “We’ll find out this weekend, I guess, right?
“It doesn’t matter what you did in the past,” he added. “Outside this room, I really don’t care what they say or what they think. It really matters what we think in this room. I think we’re a darn good football team.”
Not many thought so in the preseason. Of 158 voters this year, only four picked Duke, four more chose North Carolina and three had Pitt first. Preseason favorite Georgia Tech is in last place. Virginia Tech, picked second, is in sixth. And Miami, the third-place pick, is in fourth but fired its coach after the worst loss in program history.
The Coastal had dropped to second-class status in comparison to an Atlantic Division headlined by national powers Clemson and Florida State.
Duke won the division in 2013 when the Blue Devils were just beginning to be taken seriously as a program after years of ineptitude. When they stumbled down the stretch last year, Georgia Tech snatched the title.
But now, a case could be made that the Coastal is the deeper division.
The Atlantic seems to be more top-heavy with the third-ranked Tigers and 17th-ranked Seminoles. But behind them are five teams that have losing records either overall, in ACC play or both. And the Coastal’s Yellow Jackets just gave Florida State its first ACC loss since 2012.
“This whole conference, especially in the Coastal, has been getting stronger,” Skura said. “Hopefully, good things are still to come.”
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